OPINION: Equality beyond sexual identity

Yogyakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Recently, this paper printed a story of Islamic groups arguing that draft version of a bill on gender equality disconfirms Islamic values since it excludes the afterlife (akhirat) aspect of human beings. In addition, many of those who are disjointed from the law refer to specific jurisprudence in inheritance.

Simply put, the spirit behind the bill initiated by the Women¿s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry is highly nuanced by liberalism and westernisation that degrade Islamic values.

When people debate equality between men and women in Islam, most will simply end up concluding that Islam is a gender-biased religion.

However, those who study it carefully might come up with a completely opposite perspective. It is a religion that embraces equality among humans; however, misleading information related to the religion is widely understood and spread by Muslims themselves.

Most Muslims in Indonesia embrace the religion not because of choice. If you ask Indonesians why they become Muslims, the common answer is probably ¿my parents are Muslims¿.

This also often applies to other religions. Islamic values are rarely taught as a way of thinking, but dominated by ritual activities to satisfy existing social requirements.

I went to Islamic schools and a public university. Religious classes that I attended mostly talked about how to pray and cite the Koran but rarely discussed the values behind those rituals.

Only a few Muslims are probably aware that in the Koran many verses use words that encourage critical thinking, namely words like tadzakkuruun (those who are thinking). Thus, Islam is open to dialogue and questions related to humanity and life.

Many Muslims probably only know that Islam justifies polygamy. But not many of them look at the story behind it since most teachers just lecture the content as it is. The same situation applies to inheritance law, in which a woman¿s contribution is defined as half of a man¿s.

Those verses (polygamy and inheritance) have been politicised to legalise particular actions that run counter to the values behind them, which actually intend to raise women from marginalisation.

Historically, Arabian men were allowed to marry as many women as they wanted. Another narration says that the verse intends to protect women whose husbands are killed in the wars; therefore, a man is allowed to have more than a wife in order to protect and support the widows.

The inheritance law also protected women from exclusion of inheritance distribution in the male-

dominated Arabian setting. The verse promotes women from having nothing to half. So, if modern law wants to raise women¿s inheritance from a half to a whole for the sake of equality, the ¿spirit¿ of the old and new laws are compatible with each other.

These short examples indicate that Muslims should not worry that the legislature will degrade Islamic values since it is in keeping with the reason why Islam is taught to be a mercy to the universe.

Islam as a value offers sufficient room for equality and fairness, but what is cited from the Koran is borne out of contextual and cultural circumstances that might not always fit the current environment. Islam as a way of life is eternal, but as a culture it is contextual.

The proposed gender equality law should be supported as a way to ensure that the most vulnerable in male-dominated environments do not experience discrimination, regardless of their sexual identity. The law should also be able to protect those who are transgender, transsexual, gay, and bisexual in all aspects of life. For instance, can a transgender person serve as a public servant? Can a gay join the military? Or, can a woman become a pastor or penghulu (marital judge)?

Gender analysis provides a person with the opportunity to choose what is good for his or her individual wellbeing; if you are gay, nobody has the right to force you to come out if you are not ready, and if you are straight, there is no reason to be homophobic.

The analysis provides a perspective that, for instance, a job might be more effective if delivered by a particular gender. To some extent, women can perform particular tasks in certain fields that men are not so good at, and vice versa. Gender is not simply about categorising people based on their biological anatomy, but about how to grant individuals the freedom to pursue their happiness.

No one size fits all; there should be enough room not to be rigid, since human beings are complex creatures.

A great deal of energy has been invested in empowering women, but in some ways men are not sufficiently getting involved in the process.

Most men feel uncomfortable with gender equality since they perceive it as a threat to their power: women¿s power - men¿s fear. For example, if you are a man, then according to social constructs, you are expected to head the household and support your family economically. But thanks to a career wife who earns money, the economic burden can be shared.

Another example: If men are socially constructed to be tough and therefore not show their emotions, then introducing a gender perspective will allow them to share their emotions within masculine spaces. A man may cry without having to feel ashamed.

Women¿s rights, gender equality, and gay recognition are sensitive issues in Islam, especially at the grassroots level in which most Muslims easily accept what the ustadz (cleric) says. Opponents sloppily argue that the issues are Western and do not suit Muslim society. But, the young Muslim generation should be able to exercise their critical thinking to question religion and then embrace it by choice.

Being critical does not necessarily mean having a lack of faith in Allah. It may instead be a way to believe what you should do truly. I am not advocating Western values, but reminding people of the genuine values in Islam before they became politicised.

The writer is a faculty member in the Communications Department at the Indonesian Islamic University, Yogyakarta.

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